France, an Early Critic of AstraZeneca’s Vaccine, Has Changed Its Mind

France, one of the earliest critics of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine, has done an almost 180-degree turn from saying it was not fit for the elderly to clearing it for the middle-aged and beyond.

The reversal became official in a Friday tweet, via Health Minister Olivier Veran: “The High Health Authority (HAS) gives its green light to the resumption of vaccination with AstraZeneca for people age 55 and over.”

For everyone under the age of 55, HAS recommends using other vaccines, an official at the agency said by phone, asking not to be identified in line with protocol.

It marks something of a stunning reversal for President Emmanuel Macron, who has struggled to handle the pandemic. His government has also been involved in a battle of words with the U.K., which has inoculated almost half of its population while many in France are still without a vaccine or are timorous of the Astra shot.

To be sure, with a similar-sized population, the U.K. has reported 35,000 more Covid-related deaths than France.

France, like Germany and Italy and others in the European Union, had halted the use of Astra amid concerns of blood-clotting side effects -- a suspension that disrupted Macron’s already slow vaccination campaign.

The political stakes are now high. There is a presidential election next year and far-right leader Marine Le Pen is breathing down Macron’s neck as his almost undisputed chief opponent in the 2022 ballot.

Friday’s recommendation comes after the European Medicines Agency said that Astra is safe and efficient, though it may increase the risk of thrombosis. It will be updated when the EMA has reviewed more data, according to the HAS official. Until now, the shot was recommended for people over the age of 50 in France.

The back-and-forth on age guidance has created chaos. It remains unclear how vulnerable parts of the population will get vaccinated and who will be allowed to get a second, booster shot. HAS will issue recommendations in the coming days.

Polls show French people split over Astra’s use. A March 12 poll by Harris International showed that 64% of French saying they want to be vaccinated and only 43% saying they trust Astra.

France is marking the re-start of its vaccination campaign with the immunization of 55-year-old Prime Minister Jean Castex Friday afternoon.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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